A collection of the most prolific football players in the NFL are meeting in Minnesota Sunday when the Vikings host the Kansas City Chiefs.
For just the third time since 1970, the NFL all-time leaders in career passing yards per game (Patrick Mahomes), receiving yards per game (Justin Jefferson), and yards among tight ends (Travis Kelce) will all share a field. Mahomes and Kelce were involved in the other two games as well (joined by Julio Jones with Tampa Bay in 2022 and with Tennessee in 2021).
Jefferson lauded Mahomes leading up to the Chiefs first game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"[He's] special. When you talk about him, you've kind of got to put him in a conversation by himself," Jefferson said. "It's something you cannot teach, the different throws that he makes, just the different reads that he [makes]. It's crazy to see on film."
Mahomes has played and defeated every NFL team except the Vikings. If Kansas City wins, he'll be the youngest quarterback to beat the league's 31 other teams.
But Jefferson said he's confident in the Vikings defense. Offensively, Minnesota is equipped for a shootout if necessary. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown multiple touchdowns in every game this season. His 11 touchdown passes lead the league. Jefferson also leads the NFL in receiving yards with 543.
After a 1-3 start, Jefferson stressed what beating the defending Super Bowl Champions would mean for the Vikings season.
"It's time to turn the season back around," Jefferson said. "We had the first win last week. So we just got to stack on that, continue to keep playing our ball, limit the turnovers. And I feel like we'll be back in."
Matchup to watch: Patrick Mahomes versus Harrison Smith
Harrison Smith — fresh off a game with 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble versus Carolina — is ready to turn back the clock again. This time, in preparation for Mahomes.
The veteran safety said although he's never faced the Mahomes, he has had many battles with a similar gunslinger known for extending plays and finding teammates down the field.
"To me, just because I played against [Aaron] Rodgers and he was doing a lot of that stuff back in the day," Smith said. "It kind of looks similar as far as his ability to make any throw at any time."
Containing Mahomes will take a complete team effort, and even then, the best quarterback in football will likely make some plays.
"When you are playing a great player, an MVP caliber player, that player is probably going to make some plays. That is just how it goes," Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores said. "We are going to do everything that we can in those situations to make sure we win those particular situations, but when they hit a play, then we move on to the next one. And that is really the mindset we have to take."
Mahomes is making those Houdini-esqueplays with his feet more often this season.
Last Sunday, Mahomes gained 25 of his 51 rushing yards on a third-and-23 with six minutes to play. Eight plays later, he ended the game via a 9-yard scramble on third-and-8.
Through four games, Mahomes has scrambled on a career-high 9.9% of his dropbacks, according to Next Gen Stats. His 159 scrambling yards are the most among quarterbacks. On those runs, he's gained 11 first downs (tied for first) and is plus-16 in expected points added, which also ranks first.
"And then it's his escapability," Smith said. "Like, he can run. He can move. So just being aware of those things — which is hard. It's hard to do."
Six Points: Memorable Week 5 Quotes
S Josh Metellus on defending against Mahomes-led Chiefs offense:
"It's really hard because [you know they have] plays dialed up, and we shut those plays down, but then he finds a way to make an even bigger play. So, it's all about knowing the quarterback you're going against. It's all about the rush and the coverage marrying each other. The d-line has to be on it and not let him [extend plays], and we have to be on it and cover these guys so [the pass rush] can get to him. Us playing together, I think that's all it's going to come down to."
Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on defending Travis Kelce:
"Having coached against this group in the past, Kelce's certainly one of the best tight ends, I would say, to probably ever play. Route running, combat catcher. You can have him covered, but he'll go up and get it with one hand, back shoulder. Obviously, he and Mahomes have a great rapport, so yeah, there is a little bit of, if somebody has him leveraged out, he's gonna stop the route and go somewhere else where he can get open and find the open spaces. They've got such a great rapport, and I think Mahomes is really building that with all his [pass-catchers]."
OLB Danielle Hunter on Marcus Davenport returning to action:
"That was exciting. I think I told some people before last week, but I was excited to have him back – being able to open up stuff for everybody up front. It's definitely a plus having him back."
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on rotation of Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers last week and moving forward:
"Yeah, I just thought Alex got off to a great start in the game. Then, when Cam was able to come in on predetermined drives, what that did was keep Alex really fresh. Then Cam was able to feel at times like a change of pace, although their styles aren't that much different. It was great to see Cam in there. … Then Alex was running incredibly well. I really wanted to get him over that 100 number there in that 4-minute situation, but there were about 14 guys up around the line of scrimmage. So, if you know how to get him over the century mark there, let me know. Yeah, I just thought both of them – the way Mod' (running backs coach Curtis Modkins) kind of rotated them – and I still like the idea of getting Ty [Chandler] some touches. With his feet and explosiveness, he gets his touches on those kick returns, which is great, but as you guys have seen, most of the time this year, people are kicking it through the end zone to try and avoid Ty getting a chance."
Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on Brian O'Neill's success in the run game:
"He's athletic. Technique, fundamentals. He tries to do it right. Really no different than any other guy as far as why he's successful, except that he's very athletic. But hand placement, footwork. I think he's still third ever in the [NFL Scouting] Combine in [40-yard dash] time, and I know that doesn't translate for offensive linemen always to playing offensive line, but it just kind of shows you what kind of an athlete he is at the size that he is. He's been a captain on this team for a reason. He does things the right way and goes about his business. And he's a fun guy, outside of that."
QB Kirk Cousins on what an 'opportunity ball' looks like to Justin Jefferson:
"I just think it's an ongoing conversation. Like on the plane after the game, I asked him, 'Hey, on that touchdown you caught at the end of the game, how do you want that ball thrown? Do you want more air? Do you want it to be a driven ball? Do you want it on your outside shoulder?' He didn't give me much feedback. He pretty much just said, 'You just put it out there, and I'll catch it.' I said, 'All right, that doesn't help me a ton, but I understand what you're saying.' So, I just try to be a student of how to put the football in certain situations, and it probably is different in each moment. If the safety is coming over, it's got to be a driven ball. If it's truly 1-on-1, put a little more air on it. I just want to make sure when he has an opportunity, let's give him that chance as opposed to overthrowing him or throwing it in such a way that he couldn't let his ability come to the surface."
Jefferson needs 29 receiving yards to pass Randy Moss for the second most by a player in his first four NFL seasons and 145 to break the record held by Michael Thomas.
Jefferson also enters the game ranked ninth in franchise history with 5,368 receiving yards and needing 122 to pass Vikings Ring of Honor receiver Ahmad Rashad for eighth.
His 357 career receptions are 11th in team history and position him nine shy of passing Stefon Diggs for 10th.
With one more receiving touchdown, Jefferson's total will improve to 29 and move him out of a current tie at 10th with Vikings Ring of Honor tight end Steve Jordan. Diggs ranks ninth in team history with 30 career touchdowns.
We need to stop turning the ball over! Our defense took us home [Sunday], and our offense made mistakes and made up for it! We have to start off fast and not get behind! … We need our first win at home next week at home! 1-3! If we can win next week at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, this would be a huge win! We need that especially for home folks! Kirk has got to play better too! [Alexander] Mattison had a great game and [Cam] Akers! Harrison Smith and Marcus Davenport played great.
— Maurice Riley
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings carry a bit of momentum into Week 5. Minnesota has been able to move the ball with some of the best in the business, but have suffered a turnover with the ball inside the 2-yard line in each of their first four games. That has to end, especially against a Chiefs defense that has been stingy to go along with a Kansas City offense that has potential to do major harm.
The run game the past two weeks has been quite encouraging, particularly with the way Akers stepped right into the mix and complemented Mattison.
Smith had a monstrous day statistically and Davenport showed what the Vikings leaders envisioned when they signed him as a free agent.
Winning home games is always so important to the season-long success of the team, so it's vital that Minnesota start protecting its home turf, and there's no time like the present to do so.
Nice win … but two concerns [for KC] …
1. We need to prepare for their gap blitzing, they hold one guy back until a gap is open then full-speed to the QB. Major concern since Cousins holds the ball too long or he is always looking for J.J., then when he goes for the checkdowns, it is too late. This is poor play-calling not calling more plays for other receivers.
2. Those plays when Mahomes gets big runs, they are designed. Everyone goes deep and wide, opening huge runs for him.
"Vikingjoe" in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Cousins entered Week 5 leading the NFL in completions and passing touchdowns, so there have been some really good things happening in the passing game. He's worked through his progressions on some plays, and others are certainly intended to start with Jefferson for so many reasons.
Mahomes' threat as a runner makes the Chiefs offense so much more problematic. Scheme and execution can take away options, but then he's so good at escaping trouble or capitalizing if a team doesn't do enough to account for his legs.